The Birth of Venus

I love anything Italy related, and I’ve seen Botticelli’s painting of The Birth of Venus. Since this Sarah Dunant book shares a title, I figured it had to be right up my alley. 

The story takes place in the late 1400s in Florence. The Medicis have power, but the city is changing. Alessandra and her family are there to witness it all. 

Alessandra is not like most women of her time. She loves knowledge and art, and wants more than anything to be an artist, instead of just a wife. Unfortunately for her, that’s not acceptable for women of her status. With Florence in a battle between the Franciscans and Dominicans, Alessandra has even less freedom to be herself. But then she gets an olive branch of sorts. 

Cristoforo needs a wife. Alessandra needs a husband if she wants to stay safe. They marry to protect each other. Alessandra gets the freedom to pursue her art, but she must come to terms with her husbands secrets– secrets that could hurt them both if discovered. 

And in the midst of it all is the painter. Commissioned to paint her family’s chapel, Alessandra finds herself drawn to him. He’s timid and afraid, but he produces beauty with his paints. Alessandra wants to learn from him, and she quickly finds herself loving him as well.

There’s a lot of history in this. I admit that I don’t know how much of it is true, but it’s fascinating none the less. Florence is in turmoil, and the church is struggling against itself. Women especially have no power and must rely on their husband or a convent for safety. 

It’s a love story as much as it is a story of survival, and there are secrets galore. It appeals to the artists and the lovers, the historians and the faithful. 

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